Need help deciding on the right career path? Check out these 7 smart career options.
When making any big decision, it's a good sign when someone says, "Wow, that's a smart way to go."
Deciding on a career is no different.
So what makes one career choice wiser than another?
- Real opportunities?
- Great earning potential?
- A strong future forecast?
The smart answer: All of the above.
In that spirit, we've highlighted seven smart career options, along with some facts and figures about each profession.
We've also included details on how you could potentially prepare for these careers.
Smart Career Choice #1 - Medical Assistant
If you're looking for a career that's showing rapid growth, look no further than medical assistants, who do a variety of administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals and doctor's offices.
- Career opportunities will soar 34 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
- The rise in conditions like obesity and diabetes are creating a new need for medical assistants, according to the Department of Labor.
- Additionally, an increase in the number of health care facilities is creating a need for more health care personnel, and medical assistants in particular, according to the Department of Labor.
Education: The two most common ways to prepare for this career are by earning a medical assisting associate's degree or certificate, according to the Department of Labor.
Average Salary: $29,760*
Smart Career Choice #2 - Financial Analyst
Financial analysts help businesses and people find new investment opportunities and make smart choices that fit their long-term and short-term strategies.
- Investment opportunities are increasingly global and diversified these days, creating a need for financial analysts to sort through the complexities and explain them in a straightforward way.
- Employment opportunities for financial analysts are expected to grow 20 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Financial analyst was named one of U.S. News & World Report's "50 Best Careers of 2011," in part because of a strong employment forecast and the potential for strong average earnings.
Education: To pursue work as a financial analyst, you will likely need a bachelor's degree in business administration, finance, or economics, and sometimes an MBA with a specialization in finance as well, according to the Department of Labor.
Average Salary: $86,040*
Smart Career Choice #3 - Paralegal
Reliable and detail-oriented professionals could potentially thrive as paralegals, who work closely with lawyers behind-the-scenes, doing paperwork, researching facts, and interviewing potential witnesses.
- Employment of paralegals is projected to rise 28 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Many law firms like to hire full-time paralegals because they can complete many of the same tasks as lawyers in a more cost-effective way, according to the Department of Labor.
- You don't necessarily need a bachelor's degree to pursue this line of work. Other education options include an associate's degree or certificate.
Education: If you already have a bachelor's in an unrelated area, earning a certificate in paralegal studies is one education option. Otherwise consider earning an associate's degree in paralegal studies.
Average Salary: $49,640*
Smart Career Choice #4 - Computer Support Specialist
People skills are nearly as important as your tech skills in this career since computer support specialists provide support to companies and people in person and by phone and email.
- Computer support specialist was named one of U.S. News & World Report's "50 Best Careers of 2011," in part due to a high-volume of entry-level opportunities.
- Rapid advances in technology could make this a hot career track.
- Some companies prefer to hire computer support specialists who want to work from home because of the potential cost-savings involved, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Education: There are different ways to prepare for this career, according to the Department of Labor, from earning a certificate in technology support to an associate's or bachelor's degree in an IT-related area.
Average Salary: $49,930*
Smart Career Choice #5 - Medical Records Technician
Looking to break into health care? Consider a career as a medical records technician. They're the ones who input and manage patient health care records and data.
- A recent nationwide push to convert paper medical records into electronic form by President Obama makes this a potentially hot career option.
- Employment opportunities for medical records technicians will rise 20 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Career prospects are best for those who understand how to use the latest medical records technology and software, according to the Department of Labor.
Education: A medical billing and coding certificate is a relatively quick and focused way to prepare to pursue this type of position.
Average Salary: $35,010*
Smart Career Choice #6 - Accountant
Have a head for numbers and enjoy working with spreadsheets? Accountants prepare and verify financial documents while making sure that the books are balanced.
- Accounting firms made more offers to the class of 2011 college grads than companies in any other area, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Winter 2011 Salary Survey.
- Accountant employment opportunities will rise 22 percent from 2008-2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Thanks to a bright job outlook and strong earning potential, accountant was named one of U.S. News & World Report's "50 Best Careers of 2011."
Education: Most employers require a bachelor's degree in accounting or in a related area like finance, according to the Department of Labor. If you want to get certified, most states require a bachelor's degree before taking the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Some accountants also earn a master's of business administration (MBA).
Average Salary: $68,960*
Smart Career Choice #7 - Dental Assistant
Looking for a career that combines office and clinical work? Dental assistants perform office duties while also working in patient care and can even work in the laboratory.
- Dental assistants are enjoying "excellent" career prospects that will grow 36 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, making it one of the country's fastest-growing careers.
- Population growth - along with an aging population that has increasingly healthy teeth and gums - is creating a demand for more dental assistants to help perform routine procedures.
- The Department of Labor says most dental assisting programs take less than one year to complete.
Education: Though educational requirements can vary on a state-by-state basis, dental assistants with formal preparation generally enjoy the best career prospects, according to the Department of Labor. You could earn a dental assisting certificate in about one year, depending on your course load and specific program.
Average Salary: $34,140*
*All salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor using May 2010 earnings data.